Sunday , 16 January 2022

NHL ice man Dan Craig remembers his days in Bonnyville

Dan Craig has been the top icemaker for 32 NHL outdoor games, helped numerous new facilities get their ice conditions right, and may have been involved with the Lucky Loonie at the 2002 Winter Olympics — but the journey began for this ice guru in Bonnyville.

Announcing his retirement a couple of weeks, the NHL’s outgoing vice president of facilities operations, worked for seven years during the 1980s at the RJ Lalonde and old Bonnyville Arena. 

After moving from his hometown of Jasper, Craig was just a year removed from high school when he took the job in Bonnyville. He never would’ve never anticipated it was the first step in a long and storied journey.

As he described it, he was a young whippersnapper with a lot left to learn.

“We opened up the RJ Lalonde Arena, and when I moved there we just had the older rink and the swimming pool was built behind it. So Doris and myself opened up the swimming pool. I did the mechanical side of things once it got opened. And then when I first moved to town, the building that the RJ is now the complex of — was empty. There was nothing there. They used to have some boat shows in there. So yes, I did work there,” said Craig on After Hours with Michael Menzies. 

“It was the mid-80s and the Bonnyville Sr. Pontiacs were basically the hot item. We had the Junior B team come in and they were really good entertainment. And I think that for me, the biggest challenge was trying to operate the older building and trying to open up the new building at the same time. We didn’t open it until after Christmas on that one particular year. So there was quite a bit going on in that community. It was growing, and we had a lot of good recreation department, good parks department, we had a lot of good, talented young people come through there.” 

Perhaps Craig would’ve settled down in Bonnyville long-term if it hadn’t been for the town manager at the time, who sat him down and forced him to think about his future.

“It was just one of those things that being young, at that time, I just went I don’t need goals or objectives. I don’t need to know what I’m supposed to do 3-5 years from now and she said, ‘I need you to write it down. I need you to write it down and that way when you write it down you’re focused.'”

“I still have that paper today, I don’t know if I can find it right away. But I saw it probably about a year and a half ago. It said that my goal was to be the best ice maker in Alberta. And the second one was I want to be in Calgary for the ’88 Olympics. So I need to be in Calgary for January of 87. Or I want to be with the Edmonton Oilers by January of 87. Well, I missed that goal by five and a half weeks. I was with the Edmonton Oilers in the first week of February,” said Craig. 

Craig never looked back. After working at Northlands for years, Craig eventually surpassed those listed goals, building the ice at Northlands Coliseum for the Heritage Classic in 2003 before being involved in most of the upcoming NHL outdoor games.

As he looks at his time spent in Bonnyville, he remembers the people the most.

“Friendships and people. That’s what it is. From day one, it was a friendly community, always accepting. I think it was one of those things where I didn’t realize exactly what I was, the footsteps I was putting forward walking into that building, but I knew that for myself to grow and be better there were certain things that had to happen.”

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.